I had never wished to leave Kashmir and settle in the plains of India, but my career choices pushed me miles beyond the Pir Panjal mountain range and exposed me to the world and some of its harsh realities. Growing up in the early 1990s in Kashmir had ingrained an unpalatable image of non-Kashmiris in my mind. At times, I used to think that there was no compassion and love beyond the Valley.
I moved to Delhi in 2012 for better career opportunities. Soon, I fell in love with the city of more than 30 million people — the food, the Mughal-era monuments and, more importantly, the work opportunities it had to offer. But I had my share of struggles — the major one being people denying me accommodations for my Kashmiri identity.
Two years later, I decided to move back home — little did I know that I would soon begin to miss the city. After some time, I returned to Delhi, which was waiting for me with more opportunities. It helped me find a person with whom I want to spend the rest of my life; I call her Zuva, which means soul or life in Kashmiri. How I met Zuva is as fascinating as the American sitcom ‘How I Met Your Mother’.
Until I met her, life wasn’t easy; it was actually a roller-coaster ride, with a lot of drama that unfolded between my ex-girlfriend and I. After breakups, people find varied means to move on in their lives. Some people reconnect with faith or take up some new hobby, others start learning something new, which they had desired at a certain juncture in their lives. My friends, however, egged me on to join dating apps. I sucummbed to their pressure and the saga of swipe right started. I started getting matches, but I wasn’t sure about meeting them as my confidence had hit rock bottom and I had started questioning myself a lot. Such was the level of my low self-esteem that I once sent a text to one of my matches: “I hope my Kashmiri identity is not a problem.” Her reply was comforting. Post-breakup, I had started questioning everyone and wasn’t sure I would find true love.
I was on dating apps for close to three years and had mixed experiences. I met some amazing people, but not Zuva. I quit these apps in 2019 and was waiting for my parents to arrange my marriage. I am of the firm belief that love happens to you when you least expect it. I had planned to resign from work in early 2021. However, the pandemic delayed it for a couple of months.
In March 2021, I was handed over the last assignment at my old workplace. I didn’t expect it to be special, but I took it up nevertheless. That is when I met Zuva for the first time. Her first appearance on my laptop screen just beguiled me. For the next few weeks, we met over Zoom calls every evening. I used to wait for it so that we could spend an hour together, virtually. However, I never had direct eye contact with her during our sessions. Now that we are together, Zuva often brings it up in our conversation: How I never looked at her. We both laugh.
The second wave of the pandemic played the spoiler when she caught Covid and had to stop her training. I wished to check on her every day, but refrained from it, keeping in view our professional association. After a fortnight, she recovered and was back on track. We resumed our training. Her seraphic face would always make my heart pound; I would even forget my sentences.
We didn’t realise how fast these two months passed; it felt as if we had just started. I believe it happens only when you find someone with whom you share a special bond. With Zuva, I lost track of time. During our conversation, we both wanted to know what our relationship status was and what exactly we wanted from our next relationship. Zuva and I figured out that we had a lot in common: Both of us were looking for someone who could accept us with our flaws rather than trying to change us.
When I informed her that it was my last day with the organization and she would be getting a different trainer for her remaining sessions, her reply stunned me: She didn’t want to continue her training. I assured her that I would stay in touch as I was leaving the organization and not the world. During the next couple of weeks, we exchanged text messages regularly and discussed a number of issues, including one which concerned us the most — our interfaith love. Old-fashioned romantics, we wrote letters to each other, proclaiming our unmitigated love. I have heard people say that when true love happens, it teaches you a language which is unique, one which only lovers understand. Zuva introduced me to that language.
(Fayaz Peer is an Advertising and Marketing professional based in New Delhi. Previously, he has worked as a journalist with ‘The Indian Express’, ‘Bureaucracy Today’ and ‘The Rising Kashmir’. Twitter: @fayaz)